With 'Dark Knight' days over, film lab to go condo
The River North building where clips of "The Dark Knight" were first screened will soon be knocked down to make way for condominiums.
A venture of Chicago-based developer MCZ Development Corp. paid $1.8 million in July for the Filmworkers/Astrolab, a 10,156-square-foot film processing studio at 61 W. Erie St., according to Cook County records.
The venture, which bought the property from Astrolab owner Alan Kubicka, plans to build condos on the site, said Jan Smith of @properties, who represented Mr. Kubicka in the sale. Michael Lerner, president of MCZ Development, did not return calls.
Mr. Kubicka, who owns the post-production facility Filmworkers Club, bought the Erie Street property for nearly $1.3 million in 2001, Cook County records show. With the purchase, Mr. Kubicka also took over the Astrolab, which processed film for all of John Hughes' movies, including "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" and "Home Alone," and other Chicago-based flicks like "The Break-Up" and "Barbershop."
But the two-story "maze" has few windows and steel infrastructure to support the weight of the processing equipment and isn't well-suited for other types of businesses, said Manuela Hung, who was general manager of Astrolab when it closed in May.
Chicago-based MCZ specializes in residential projects and plans a 50-unit apartment project in Bucktown.
But a recent shift in the condo market and the strong River North location make MCZ's latest acquisition an ideal site for condos, said Gail Lissner, vice president of Appraisal Research Counselors, a Chicago-based consulting firm.
Astrolab began operating out of the Erie Street facility in the 1960s, Ms. Hung said. The company processed its last feature film in 2008 and has worked on commercials and independent movies since then. The film processing facility was the last independent full-service film lab in the Midwest.
It was exciting to get a sneak peak of the movies before they hit theaters, but big-budget projects brought more stress, she said.
After watching crews shoot scenes for "The Dark Knight" along the Chicago River at dusk, Ms. Hung stayed awake all night worried about the film processing. Any slip-ups by the Astrolab employees meant reshooting a scene that required road closures as a helicopter flew overhead.
"But we never lost a foot of film for any of the features," she said.
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